“Dayspring”

IThes5

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

In the autumn, many people look forward to the changing of their clocks. We are able to continue to go to work or school after the sun has risen.

Then, months later, when the days get longer, we enjoy coming home from work when it is still light, too. The daytime often feels safer and friendlier.

So we can sympathize with St. Paul’s use of the metaphor of daylight in today’s First Lesson: “…since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of love, and for a helmet, the hope of salvation.”

Daytime here is an image of spiritual community: another passage in the Bible refers to Christians as, “children of light.”

At the same time, there is also an implied contrast in this passage with “night.” Christians aren’t children of the night-time— night-time when people go to “nightclubs” to enjoy the “nightlife,” and when there is a greater temptation to risky behavior.

In St. Paul’s day, of course, nightlife was limited by the lack of electricity. Yet the equivalent of bars existed in the first century. So it’s not surprising that Paul says that those who belong to the day are to be “sober!”

Yet “sober” here is really meant to be a metaphor. It refers to the spiritual awareness that Christians discover when they come to connect their lives with the true and living God.

Being sober is like waking up in the morning. When Christians “wake up” to God’s call to what is truly important, they “sober up” to their responsibilities as children of God.

But waking up may not always lead to spiritual sobriety. Think of what are called, “the witching hours,” those times when you have awakened in the middle of the night and you can’t get back to sleep, and your restless mind churns from problem to problem. At those times, mental focus seems impossible.

The fear factor of such brooding doesn’t lead to clear thought. Decisions made in the middle of the night aren’t the best. Fortunately, things look better in the light of day…

So being “sober” in Paul’s terms means much more than avoiding the influence of chemical stimulants. For example, it can mean being able to concentrate the mind on one task at a time.

I find this myself to be a major spiritual challenge. For me, distraction can be almost like drunkenness–in that my mind lurches from topic to topic, and I feel myself thinking of one problem after another without paying useful attention to anything.

On my desk in my office, there’s always at least one pile of paper with items to be dealt with. But as soon as I pick up the document on top, the phone rings, or someone comes into my office, or an email arrives, or I remember a parish event I have to prepare for—and I put down that paper and the stack of papers remains ignored.

I realize that I would have the same problems if I were working in a corporate office. Yet I think that my problem has a spiritual component.

For to make progress, I have to adopt the old Protestant work ethic; I need to prod myself to use my time more wisely and I can no longer use distraction as an excuse for not producing.

Nor can I look at the piles of paper and think smugly that they are proof of how busy I am. In fact, they simply show how much work I have managed so far not to do!

Yet in cases like these, when we feel weighed down by life, we can remember a positive result that comes from being children of the day. For we don’t just escape from darkness—we enter the light of the Spirit.

The British philosopher Ian Ramsay, who was Bishop of Durham in northern England in the 1970’s, proposed a way of talking about religious experience. Ramsay suggested a theological use of the common expression, “the light dawns.”

Suppose that you can’t figure out how to complete a project at work. The various goals of the project that need to be accomplished go around and around in your head, but they just don’t seem to fit together.

Then, when you can barely stand to think about the problem any more, “the light dawns.” You suddenly discern a way to organize your various tasks to get them all accomplished.

But such an experience shows how God uses our awareness. A prime way that we interact with God is through just such events—which Bishop Ramsay called, “disclosures.” Spiritual wisdom emerges in these moments of recognition, of discovery, of insight—when the light dawns, when spiritual wisdom is suddenly conveyed to us.

For Ramsay, being religious wasn’t just doing religious things. And so Christians should look for disclosures; we should try to see what God is already doing in our lives.

A favorite canticle that our choir often sings at Morning Prayer is called the Benedictus. In this canticle, the Prophet Zechariah is speaking at the birth of John the Baptist. He predicts that John will be “the prophet of the most High.” John’s preaching will describe how the world will change when the Messiah appears.

Zechariah says to the infant John, “…thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people.” Then, as the mission of the Messiah unfolds, people will see “…the tender mercy of our God, whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us; to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Christ is a dayspring that pours light into our darkness. The grueling witching hours, the dark brooding comes to an end.

After all, the sun eventually rises. It always happens. We can count on it. So the divine light eventually dawns in our lives, and dayspring from on high visits us, and guides us into the way of peace.

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.


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